The Rivers School’s 96th graduation unfolded under clear blue skies on Saturday, June 8. Friends and family gathered to celebrate the Class of 2019’s 90 members as they head out into the wide world.
After the class paraded into the tented area of the quad as a brass quintet played “Pomp and Circumstance,” Head of School Ned Parsons told them in his opening remarks, “In your time here, you have become scholars in the true sense of the word. You have studied broadly and deeply, grasping the big picture even as you wrestled with the finer details. You’ve followed your interests and discovered new passions, and in doing so have learned to open yourselves to new possibilities for what you can be and do in this world. You’ve shared your knowledge with your classmates, unafraid to ask hard questions and prepared to clarify when others were in need.”
He then introduced board president Harley Lank, who delivered a warm welcome to the crowd. Next up was math teacher Keith Zalaski, chosen by the class to be its faculty speaker. Zalaski shared with the audience that he, too, is facing a new beginning, as he and his wife look forward to the arrival of their first child in October. He drew parallels between the two experiences: “As I sat in the OB’s office and dreams of holding her hand and walking her to her first day of school came to mind, other thoughts started to creep in. What if I am not ready for this? What if I’m not prepared to take on this next transition in my life? The heaviness of those thoughts started to push out those initial happy ones, and I started to swim in the feelings of being unprepared, unqualified, and unsure of how I’d live up to this drastic change in a life in which I had become very comfortable.
“You, too, may be having some of these feelings,” Zalaski said, adding, “If you’re not, please close your ears and pretend you’re in A block Geometry with me four years ago.” The solution he offered was a piece of advice he first heard from his father: KISS. “The simple breakdown of this acronym is Keep It Simple, Stupid,” Zalaski explained, “but for our purposes I’ll replace ‘stupid’ with ‘students.’ I like the term ‘stupid’ when referring to myself, because it places strong emphasis on where my head is, but I’d prefer if no one left here wondering if I just called all of our amazing graduates stupid.”
He told the graduates that four simple words had helped him overcome times of uncertainty: “Hello,” “yes,” “yet,” and “thanks.” And finally, he reminded them that they are prepared to take on any challenge and to learn lessons from their successes and failures alike.
The student speaker was Henry Muller. He recalled a recent day in English class when his teacher, Meghan Regan-Loomis, asked—among other questions—“Was it all worth it?” Amid universal agreement that it had, indeed, all been worth it, another unasked question came into focus: “No one could really figure out why.” Muller provided an answer: “One reason is only a prediction that our efforts here will see themselves pay off down the road. Future value is something Rivers has given us, but value that we can’t see and can’t measure. So we are all forced to consider what we can see, which is our present selves.
“Were the sacrifices you made during high school worth it, considering who you are now as opposed to who you were when you started? When you think about it like this, the answer to the question is an absolute, emphatic, Yes, it was worth it,” said Muller.
After Muller’s remarks, the diplomas were distributed. Following Rivers tradition, Parsons read a personal statement about each graduate, lauding their accomplishments, their talents, and the special value they brought as a member of the Class of 2019.
Parsons closed with a reading of the children’s book The Dot, whose primary lessons are about the importance of launching into a task wholeheartedly, even when the outcome is uncertain, and of having the conviction to stand by your work, your actions, and your beliefs. He shared a few more final thoughts before sending the red-robed graduates on their way. The class walked to the flagpole, tossed their caps in the air, and thus became the newest members of the Rivers alumni community.